A sheikh and a Catholic priest have joined forces to help the homeless in the city of Sao Paulo, touring poor sections of the city in their car to offer free meals.
Owned by Shiite Muslim leader Rodrigo Jalloul, the unique “Sheikh-móvel” car carries a picture of Jalloul and Father Júlio Lancellotti, who is named the Archdiocese of São Paulo’s vicar for the homeless.
Lancellotti and Jalloul first met a couple of years ago, during a TV show featuring different religious leaders.
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Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Jalloul used to visit Lancellotti’s parish every Monday to help him offer breakfast for the homeless.
“Father Lancellotti advised me to build a strong social action perspective in my Islamic center, something that many times the Muslim community in Brazil forgets to do, he has been a great mentor,” Jalloul told Crux.
“He taught me many things about his work. He showed me that it is not simply about giving food to the poor, but about being with them,” Jalloul added.
Jalloul decided to decorate the van with pictures of him and Lancellotti, along with his adoptive father and his cousin, who work with him on the streets.
The van also includes the names of the Islamic center and of the pastoral for the homeless people.
“That is a work carried out by many people who have the same commitment to the poor and the homeless,” Lancellotti told Crux.
“On the streets, some people used to think that [Jalloul] was a priest too. Others did not understand who he was. But the reception is usually positive,” he added.
Their joint charitable work has contributed to decreasing anti-Muslim sentiment among many people in São Paulo, according to the sheikh.
“When people saw me wearing my garments, they usually joked around. ‘There goes the bomb man,’ somebody would always say. Now they say: ‘Look, there goes Fr. Lancellotti’s sheikh,’” Jalloul said.
Jalloul hopes their project would encourage leaders from all religions to do a similar work with the homeless.
“Sao Paulo’s homeless population was officially estimated in more than 30,000 people, but we think the real number is much higher,” he affirmed.
“We cannot help all of them alone, but maybe together we can reach many of them.”
Islam is a minority religion in Brazil, first brought by African slaves and then by Lebanese and Syrian immigrants.
Although the 2010 census put the number of Muslims in Brazil at 35,207, Muslim associations in Brazil gave higher numbers of adherents: from 400,000 to 1.5 million. These estimates encompass a range of 0.01-0.75% of the Brazilian population.